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Types of Hiking Boots

Updated on February 8, 2013

People’s outdoor activities vary as much as the kinds of terrain they cover, so it makes sense that the shoes they wear would be just as varied. However, it can be rather overwhelming to choose the correct footwear for your specific needs, so this article briefly outlines the classifications of hiking footwear.

First, know the type of trails you usually hike on, or to which you plan on adventuring. Are they easy, moderate, or are you going to blaze your own trail? Is the trail extremely rocky or wet? What seasons do you normally hike in? How long will your hike be and how much weight will you carry? The proper footwear will depend on all of these factors.

Class & Weight

A few of the most important aspects of hiking footwear are weight and flexibility. Generally, the heavier the shoe, the more rigid the sole is, and the more ankle support it will provide. Hiking footwear can efficiently be broken down into classes A-D, A being the lightest and most flexible, and D being the heaviest and most rigid.


Class A

Class A includes most hiking sandals, trail running shoes and minimalist shoes. Solid hiking sandals are perfect for wet trails where you might be fording water, and some people prefer them for all summer hiking.

Recently, many brands have come out with a minimalist style shoe in response to the barefoot running philosophy. There are trail specific barefoot running shoes and also extremely light weight minimalist running shoes which look like a regular shoe. Some people prefer these super light shoes and sandals for long trips on rough terrain, but shoes with more support are recommended for longer hikes, especially if you are carrying a moderate to heavy load.


Class B

Class B includes most hiking shoes and light hiking boots. These shoes will provide more support to the arch of the foot, and a few may even provide some ankle support. Because they still have a fairly flexible sole, they are recommended for fairly smooth terrain.

Class B also includes mid-weight hiking boots which provide ankle support and are built for rougher terrain.


Class C

Off-trail and heavy duty boots make up class C. These boots are for experienced hikers who will encounter rough terrain and require a significant amount of support through the arch and ankle. Because of the necessary stiffness of the material and the high cut of the ankle, it takes some time to break in the boot.

Class D

Leather or plastic double-boot mountaineering boots make up class D. They are designed to

  • work in conjunction with crampons,
  • and are best suited to alpine endeavors
  • and ice climbing.

They are inappropriate for general use, and are only recommended for experienced winter mountaineers.

If you are a serious hiker you will end up with multiple pairs of hiking shoes. If you can, switch it up. A different foot bed can be extremely rejuvenating to tired feet. Backpackers often wear a class B or C shoe but bring a comfortable class A to wear while set up at a campsite. Though they may be dorky, my boyfriend and I bring our Crocs on every backpacking trip because they are so lightweight, breathable, and comfortable.

You should also take the time to break in your hiking shoes, especially any of the heavier, stiffer shoes. The video below is helpful!


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    • sgiguere profile image

      Stephanie Giguere 5 years ago from Marlborough MA

      Thanks Ericdierker!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Right on with the Crocs. It is that second pair that make me crazy. They have to be tough if your primary boots blow out or are otherwise not advisable. But not to much weight. Pick wrong 14 miles out and you are in bad shape. Great article.